Empty Shells

Matt Piamonte, Meds 2014

There you lay, an earthen vessel. In that very bed you moved, and spoke, and shared your soul with me only this morning. But tonight, your soul is gone. The eyes that were its windows are shut, and my little flashlight cannot penetrate into those shadows. Your breathing, which was so difficult for you moments ago, has stilled, bringing ... peace? I do not know, because you have gone where I have not; not yet. But the frailty with which your soul clung to your body ... the mere instant in time which marked its departing flight ... these things make me wonder. How closely does my soul cling to this, my own earthen vessel? Does my soul, too, long to make its escape? Does it long for peace?

What is there that remains? No soul, no breath. What is there that tells me you were human? That you lived, that you grew, that you laughed, that you cried, that you sinned, and that you survived. That you struggled so very hard to remain a few precious moments longer upon this world when all those around you—even those who loved you most—knew this was the end.

Is it really that simple? Is that really what it is to be human? To breathe while we have the strength to breathe, and to share our souls with all who care to look deeply enough—to look through the windows of our souls to see something of who we truly are?

Last night I saw an empty shell, abandoned flesh and bones that once housed a man’s soul. And I knew for a fact that one day, perhaps sooner than I think, I, too, would vanish—leaving only an empty shell behind. We speak of legacy, of wills, of inheritances, of history, and of the makings and doings of great people. But I have never seen the soul of history. What is gone in a moment is gone forever, and we who remain are left with the empty shells of what was truly lasting—truly great.

Sometimes the shells are beautiful—like a Ukrainian Easter egg, they inspire us to dream of what we ourselves could become, could create. But like eggs these dreams are fragile; a moment of neglect or an instant of distraction, and our dreams are cracked beyond repair. We are left to pick up the pieces and create what we can from the fragments of our beautiful dream, from what we had come to believe was actually possible.

But the soul that inhabits the shell—every soul that inhabits a shell—has Beauty to it, a beauty present to anyone who can look past the chips and fractures, look through the windows of the soul, and keep looking until with the heat of their desire they light up that incandescent essence of the Person who lives inside, longing to know and be known, and waiting for the day when she will escape her broken dream and soar with those who have gone before.